Our conversation begins by talking about an up and coming adaptation of ‘The Wizard of Oz’. Rebecca explains the production is being put on over the Christmas period by the local amateur dramatic association, of which she is a member.
She is pleased to tell me that she is taking the role of the leading lady, Dorothy, and in many ways this casting is more than appropriate. Like Dorothy, Rebecca is compassionate and courageous. Throughout the course of the morning she displayed her vulnerabilities and fears relating to the challenges she has faced but is calmly determined to overcome them.
Rebecca’s journey has not been an easy one. She sustained a birth related brain trauma, contracting meningitis and subsequently hydrocephalus as a baby. This resulted in physical disabilities and affected her executive, decision-making and communication skills, and her balance.
For many of us, the process of getting to know ourselves can take a lifetime. It is for some a destination that is never reached.
For young people living with brain injury however, the steps taken in getting to know themselves is also wrapped up in recognising that they feel in some way different from their peers, whilst at the same time not being able to understand or articulate why.
Rebecca explained to us that “living with brain injury is up and down.” When she was younger it was hard for her to understand what a brain injury was, and she could not understand how to explain it to others.
I remember asking questions about why I had headaches and why I have a shunt. It was not until I was growing up that I understood that it was necessary
Rebecca stated that when she was younger, she just wanted to be “like everyone else” and do all the things her friends were doing. Her parents were told that she would never walk or talk, and she admitted issues with confidence due to having two parents who were very poorly throughout their lifetime.
Her determination and resilience, as well as adopting an approach of being thankful for what she has, has been a key factor in her achieving her goals. But, like Dorothy, she is not undertaking this journey alone. Her beloved canine companion Teddy has been central to Rebecca building her confidence, along with her Neuro Occupational Therapist (OT) Roberta and support worker.
Rebecca explained, “I enjoy lots of creative things and spending time with my dog. We go into schools together and Teddy works as a Pets as Therapy dog.” This was a new activity introduced by Rebecca’s OT.
“People have smiles on their faces when they see Teddy. They are always pleased to see him. It makes me feel happy that they are happy.”
Together with Roberta, Rebecca set OT goals. “They (the goals) focused on what I wanted to work on. We have weekly sessions and we take one step at a time.”
Rebecca explained how the support of her OT has given her the confidence to realise her potential and “trust in myself.” She went onto say:
My OT wants me to do it. I feel reassured with Roberta and confident that I can improve. It is like having my own cheerleader!
It is all too easy to underestimate the value of activities; the little routines we complete every day for ourselves or others. Activities give us the opportunity to engage with others, to learn about our self and to feel valued. It is not until we lose abilities or feel excluded due to disability that we notice the impact.
Horse riding is another new activity that Rebecca has embraced with a passion. “Horse riding was suggested by Roberta to help with my balance.” She went on to say, “I was nervous at first but excited at the same time.” It is clear the enjoyment that Rebecca gets from riding, and the progress she has made in such a short time with her physical abilities has been momentous.
Occupational therapy has been central in facilitating Rebecca to “do nice things” for herself and others. “It has helped me to trust in myself,” she says, and as a result she has noticed that her “confidence has grown so much”.
At the end of The Wizard of Oz, Dorothy arrives at the Emerald City with her friends having overcome several challenges along the way. In many ways, Rebecca’s journey has taken a similar path.
“Through the ups and downs of life, I try to be as independent as possible with the brain injury,” she says. “Looking at how much I have had to deal with, I feel I am strong.” We could not agree more.
Rebecca’s unique journey following her brain injury will be released in 2020 as we continue to bring you our 'Stories behind the cases' series.
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